A woman sits on the floor between several bottles of supplements, weighing a bottle in each hand, searching for the perfect balance.

Can Certain Supplements Make IBS worse?

I've written here before about how probiotic supplementation has been critical for me in managing my IBS and controlling flares. However, it should be noted that some vitamins or supplements, especially when taken in excess and without balancing with other nutrients, can actually exacerbate certain IBS symptoms.

Can flaxseed make IBS worse?

For many years I took flaxseed oil supplements, because I had read that it helped with menstrual cramps and hormonal imbalances associated with endometriosis and other reproductive disorders. For awhile, it did seem to help a bit with that. But over time, any positive impact on my painful periods became negligible. Yet, I also noticed that I was having more IBS symptoms, especially in the earlier part of the day, in the immediate hours after taking flaxseed oil. At first, I thought this was just my imagination and there was no correlation. However, a quick Google search did yield that side effects of taking flaxseed can include increased incidences of diarrhea, gas and bloating. Of course, everybody is different, but I decided to ditch the flaxseed and see what happened. My IBS improved within days and remained improved, so I didn't return to supplementing with it. Later on, a study from 2015 concluded that flaxseed oil can have a "laxative" impact, though conversely it can also help inhibit diarrhea from certain other causes.1

Can iodine and iron make IBS worse?

I also had a similar experience supplementing with iodine, where I had increased bloating and diarrhea, so I pulled back on that as well (and a Google search confirmed this is a possible side effect). I am prone to anemia, so sometimes I take iron tablets. However, I noticed after several days of supplementing with iron, I tend to become more constipated.

A good balance

This doesn't mean that you should give up on supplementing altogether. You may have nutritional deficiencies that need to be addressed and may not be able to be rectified through diet alone and require supplementation with vitamins and minerals. However, balance is key. Some vitamins require a counterbalance to prevent an IBS-style side effect. For instance, calcium is more constipating, while magnesium can act as a natural laxative. You'll notice they are often combined together and with that, you can avoid being tipped in either direction. Likewise, iron is often combined with vitamin C, because vitamin C helps the body better metabolize iron. Iron also can be binding (constipating), while vitamin C can act as a laxative. A good multivitamin should have a good balance of all nutrients so you don't take too much of one without another needed to help it metabolize properly.

As always though, you should contact your doctor or consult with a nutritionist about supplementing for guidance and to consider your particular health situation or needs.

Have you ever suspected or discovered supplementing with something was aggravating your IBS? Did stopping it help? Or is there a supplement that helps your IBS? Please answer in the comments below!

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